Everything You Need to Know Before Buying a Vintage Rug

Frances Loom founder Kelly Vittengl answers all our pressing questions.

 how to buy a rug

photography by Frances Loom


Kelly Vittengl launched Frances Loom, a go-to source for one-of-a-kind curated antique and vintage rugs (read below for the difference!), in 2014. With an eye informed by decades of flea market exploration and a deep love for design, Kelly believes every rug tells a story. Calling from London (she just relocated), Kelly spoke with Domino about vintage rug shopping 101.

When is a rug considered vintage?
Referring to anything as vintage or antique is entirely due to its age. The word “antique” is reserved for items that are at least 100 years old, while “vintage” is reserved for items at least 30 years old. A majority of my rugs are from the late 1880’s-1940’s, so it’s a wide array of antique and vintage. It’s no secret that I love distressed rugs. I would even say it’s the most common and defining quality of my product. In my opinion, there is no such thing as too distressed. Of course you don’t want the rug falling apart, but when I see wear and tear while shopping I am jumping through the roof with excitement.

How do you choose a rug and where?
Flea markets! When I first started the company, this is where 100 percent of my inventory came from. However, my tip is to walk around and find vendors who happen to have a random rug or two. It certainly takes a bit of effort, but it’s a lot more fun and a lot less expensive than the proper rug dealers, even at a flea market.

How do you properly clean a rug to make it last a lifetime?
Caring for your rug is very important. You can add several years to its life just by doing a few simple things. Vacuuming is very important! It’s good to get settled dirt and dust (and pet hair) out. However, you should only use the “wood floor” setting when doing this; using the “carpet” setting releases the beater bar and it has the potential to be very detrimental to the rug. If something has spilled, you should use an absorbent towel and press firmly into the spot. Once most of the moisture is absorbed, you should then use only water to flush the spot. The rug should not be left on the floor to dry! For smaller rugs, use a railing or a chair to drape the rug over to dry, for larger rugs that can’t be moved, find something to prop under the rug so that it get’s airflow from both sides. It is important not to use chemical cleaners or spot removers—the natural fibers are too delicate. A quick little tip for red wine: After blotting and flushing, use table salt to cover the stain. However, leave it on for no more than five minutes and make sure it’s rinsed thoroughly. Another important step is to rotate your rug every six months or to even the wear from foot traffic. Lastly, I recommend getting the rug professionally cleaned about every two years. Do not call your local carpet cleaner who comes in with a truck! It should be taken to someone who has experience in cleaning antique rugs.

What is a red flag to you when selecting and purchasing rugs?
I would say the biggest one is price—rug prices are all over the place. People often try to sell me rugs for a higher price than I would even sell them for.

What should you consider when looking at rug pricing?
It really just depends on how much you love the rug. These pieces are handmade and one of a kind. If you find a rug that you love, I feel it’s worth it to go slightly out of your budget to buy it. You can’t imagine the amount of emails I receive from customers begging to let them know if I get anything similar to a rug they “debated too long on” that consequently sold.

How do you know when you're not being ripped off? When is it worth the splurge?
There’s certainly a limit with pricing and there are A LOT of dealers out there who will try and rip you off, but as long as you go out with a reasonable budget in mind, you’ll be just fine. When it comes to splurging, as I previously mentioned, I feel that it is entirely based on your love for the rug. These rugs are essentially original pieces of art, so it’s important to keep that in mind.

How do you size a rug for a room?
Sizing can be tricky. You don’t want a rug so big that it’s touching the walls, but you also don’t want a rug so small it’s hiding under the coffee table. Depending on the space, there are a lot of different directions you can go. For living rooms, you typically want something on the larger side; something that pulls each piece of furniture together. If you can’t afford a large antique rug, that’s where layering comes in. I am a huge advocate for buying an area-sized sisal rug and then layering a smaller antique rug on top. It works like a charm and is very on trend.

What do you consider when looking at style and colors of a rug in a room?
Due to my love of all things antique, a lot of my furniture pieces are pretty subdued in color due to age and wear, this allows me to experiment with busier and brighter textiles. I like to have a nice balance of contrast and texture in a room. For example: white walls, some dark leather chairs, a tan linen sofa with some throw pillows made of vintage mud cloths or kantha quilts, a rustic wooden coffee table, and a colorful but worn out rug.

Do certain materials work better in different rooms?
Most vintage and antique rugs are made of 100 percent wool, and they’re more study than you think, so you can use them just about anywhere. There are also silk rugs on the market. I don’t sell them due to their astronomical prices, but they’re often best hung on the wall. I don’t think anyone would feel comfortable walking on a $100,000 rug.

Is it a red flag if the rug smells funny?
Nearly all rugs smell when you buy them, especially from a flea market. I don’t think I have ever skipped on a purchase due to the smell, because a professional cleaner can almost always get it out. However, even after they have been cleaned, most of these rugs have a faint smell simply due to the age of the wool. A quick trick that I use is to air your rug outdoors once a year, like on deck or a balcony—it’s nice to do when spring cleaning!

Published on March 22, 2017 - 5:00am EDT

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